Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
There have been vast improvements over the years in various methods to restore diseased, damaged or missing teeth. A lot of this is due to better restorative materials that are stronger and more life-like.
But given the mouth's hostile environment and the forces generated from chewing, even the most durable restorations could fail. You can, however, improve their durability through proper care and good protective practices.
Here are 3 ways to preserve your dental work and keep it functioning for years or even decades to come.
Daily oral hygiene. Although the bacteria in dental plaque doesn't affect non-living dental materials, it can infect and weaken living tissues around fillings, crowns or implants. Because these tissues often support restorations, an infection could cripple your dental work's survivability. You can prevent this by practicing daily brushing and flossing, and getting regular dental cleanings, to remove plaque and decrease your risk of dental disease.
Dietary choices. You can further prevent dental disease by restricting your consumption of sugar and eating foods rich in calcium and other nutrients. But there's one other thing to keep in mind about what you eat: Some foods can stain veneers and other restorations, as well as natural tooth enamel. If staining occurs at different rates, your dental work could stand out from your natural teeth and look out of place. You can help avoid this by limiting items in your diet known to stain (like wine or coffee) and practicing good oral hygiene.
Poor habits. Many of us have nervous habits like nail-biting or ice-chewing, or an unconscious habit of grinding teeth. Habits like these can damage restorations like composite bonding or veneers. To prevent the chances of this happening, take steps to stop habits and practices that involve biting down on hard objects (including foods like fruits with hard skins). You should also talk to your dentist about solutions to reduce teeth grinding, especially if it's occurring while you sleep.
Above all, keep up your dental visits to regularly monitor the condition of your dental work and obtain repairs or enhancements as needed. By taking care of these valuable restorations, you can help them continue to function and serve your needs for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on maintaining your dental restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Extending the Life of Your Dental Work.”
If you’re facing cancer treatment, we wish you the best outcome possible. Treating this disease has advanced tremendously in recent decades, but the available options are still often challenging to endure. It will be your primary focus for the foreseeable future.
As a dental provider we also want you to be aware how the two main treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, could adversely affect your teeth and gums, especially if you’re receiving radiation therapy near the head and neck. The aim of cancer treatment is to attack and destroy cancer cells to prevent their growth. Unfortunately, it can also destroy neighboring healthy cells and lead to harmful consequences in different parts of the body, including the mouth.
Salivary glands, for example, are especially vulnerable to damage during cancer treatment. This could create a situation where the mouth no longer produces adequate saliva flow, leading to a condition called xerostomia or dry mouth. Besides a lot of discomfort, restricted saliva flow can also increase your risk of tooth decay and other dental diseases. This is because saliva is the body’s acid neutralizer (acid can erode tooth enamel) and its first line of defense against microbial infection.
To guard against this, it’s important to support salivary flow as much as possible if you experience dry mouth symptoms during treatment (as well as beyond—it’s possible the damage to these glands could be permanent). Since some medications also contribute to dry mouth, you should speak with your physician about the prescriptions you’re taking: if any have dry mouth side effects ask if there’s an alternative drug without these side effects. You should also drink more water during the day and especially when taking medications. And consider substances like xylitol gum that can help boost saliva flow.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible to fully avoid the effects of these treatments on your teeth and gums. So, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. If necessary, there are a number of restoration options to restore your smile after you’ve completed your treatment.
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
Madeline Stuart, acclaimed fashion model; Chris Burke, successful actor; Collette Divitto, founder of Collettey's Cookies. Each of them is accomplished in their own right—and each has Down syndrome. In October, Down Syndrome Awareness Month recognizes the achievements of people with Down syndrome overcoming incredible challenges. One such challenge, keeping their dental health on track, is something they and their families face every day.
Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder that happens when the body's cells contain an extra copy of chromosome number 21. This can cause a wide range of physical, intellectual and developmental impairments that, among other things, can contribute to dental disease and other oral health concerns.
But oral problems can be minimized, especially during childhood. Here are four ways to better manage dental care for a child with Down syndrome.
Begin dental visits early. Down syndrome patients can have physical challenges that could result in delayed tooth eruption, undersized teeth or smaller jaws that contribute to poor bite development and greater risk of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. To stay ahead of any developing issues, you should begin regular visits to the dentist no later than the child's first birthday.
Be aware of dental anxiety. Some children with Down syndrome experience significant anxiety about the clinical aspects of their care. We strive to provide a comfortable, caring environment for all patients, including those with special needs. A variety of relaxation techniques as well as sedation options may help to reduce anxiety.
Coordinate medical and dental care. Medical problems can affect dental care. Be sure, then, to keep us informed about your child's health issues. For example, heart defects are more common among those with Down syndrome, and dental patients with heart conditions may need to be treated with antibiotics before certain dental procedures to minimize the chances of infection.
Make daily hygiene easier. Daily brushing and flossing are important for everyone's dental health, but they can be difficult for someone with Down syndrome. In some cases, you may have to assist or even perform these tasks for your child. You can make oral hygiene easier by choosing toothbrushes that fit your child's level of physical ability or using special flossing devices.
The physical disabilities of those with Down syndrome fall along a wide spectrum, with some individuals needing more help than others. Tailoring their dental care to their specific needs and capabilities can help keep your child's teeth and gums healthy for the long term.
If you would like more information about providing dental care for children with disabilities, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
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